The government's chief economic forecasting gauge fell 0.4 percent in January, its sixth straight drop and the longest string of declines since 1984, the government said Friday.

The drop in the Commerce Department's Index of Leading Economic Indicators followed a revised 0.1 percent decrease in December - even worse than the barely perceptible 0.1 percent gain first reported last month. The department attributed the revision to a shorter average workweek than initially thought.The current string of declines matched the six consecutive drops from May through October 1984.

The index has not advanced since an anemic 0.1 percent gain was posted last June. The July index was unchanged.

The index is designed to forecast economic activity six to nine months in advance.

Still, most analysts maintain the recession, believed to have begun during the last half of 1990, will be milder and shorter than most contractions since World War II. Those averaged 11 months in length, during which the economy declined 2.5 percent.

The Commerce Department reported on Wednesday that the gross national product - the nation's total output of goods and services - fell 2.0 percent in the final quarter of 1990.

Analysts say statistics so far during the current quarter indicate the downturn continues, but at a slower pace, meeting the general definition of a recession.